December 3, 2013
“It’s always messy in the middle,” one of my professors said during the summer of 2011, when I attended Harvard’s Institute for Management and Leadership in Education. We were discussing the topic, “Change Management” and I was about to embark on the biggest transformational change process of my career, Completion by Design. Two and a half years later, we are exactly halfway through the Completion by Design grant period, and it does indeed feel “messy.” Many things have gone better than I could have imagined (the speed of the culture change, the academic pathway redesign, and support from leadership at all levels of the organization) and some have proved to be challenging (how to scale holistic advising in a cost-effective way). The process has been exciting, challenging, thorny, exhilarating, empowering, frustrating, and completely fulfilling.
The work for the managing project directors (MPDs) kicked off with orientation in August of 2011 when we met our colleagues from the other states. The Completion by Design Assistance Team was intentional about creating a learning community among the MPDs, and we bonded quickly. While the Assistance Team could not have anticipated the two fire drills that occurred in our hotel at 5:00 a.m. and 5:12 a.m. the first morning of our orientation, it was a great harbinger of things to come: fires/false alarms would happen, we would occasionally be caught in less than flattering situations, and we would benefit from being able to laugh about it.
Following our orientation, the work in each state began in earnest. We all followed a similar process of assembling core teams, examining our data, engaging faculty and staff, and determining strategic priorities. The Ohio cadre was composed of Sinclair Community College as the lead college, Lorain County Community College and Stark State College. The campus work teams had six cadre-wide retreats throughout the planning year, enabling the colleges to form a close-knit learning community. The campus leads participated in weekly conference calls, giving each campus the opportunity to share what we were learning. Finally, the campus leads met for a joint meeting late in the planning year to agree on strategic priorities for the cadre and to develop the proposal for implementation.
The first year of implementation was marked by a transformation of campus cultures and climates. The seamless launch of the implementation plan made it clear that the inclusive process for engaging faculty and staff paid off. The Ohio cadre’s decision to use a strength-based approach, where each campus took the lead on a strategic initiative, worked well. Lorain County Community College was the first to launch mandatory orientation and a front-end redesign of student services. Stark State College built on its successful developmental education sequence and further redesigned its curricula to help more students become college ready more quickly. Sinclair Community College redesigned its academic pathways to provide a model pathway for students, so that they could see the most efficient and coherent curriculum laid out clearly for them. All three colleges shared what we were learning and often called each other with challenges. This happened at formal retreats and conference calls, but just as often through individual phone calls to peers at other institutions. The campus leads and work team members were also very active in sharing learning at the state level, as many cadre members participated in Complete College Ohio work teams, in the performance based funding model consultation, and with the Ohio Board of Regents’ work to develop the Ohio completion plan template, which will be due at the end of this academic year.
While there may have been occasional bumps in the road (conversion to semesters, key leadership transitions, technological glitches, etc.), the strong learning community formed among the cadre, coupled with visible leadership at the Trustee, President, administrator, faculty and staff levels, helped us push through barriers to keep the work moving forward. It may be messy in the middle, but we are poised for substantive and sustainable change at the end of the grant period.
Quick Start Highlight
CBD has identified a set of adaptable pathway design principles so that colleges make their own unique plans to boost completion rates through systemic changes.